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Judge finds DA Todd Spitzer violated Racial Justice Act while discussing now convicted double-murderer

(OC Register) Racially charged comments by DA Todd Spitzer about a Black man since convicted in a brutal Newport Beach double-slaying violated the state Racial Justice Act but will not lead to a reduction of special circumstances murder charges, a judge ruled on Friday morning.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L Prickett found that comments Spitzer made about Jamon Buggs during a closed-door meeting about whether to seek the death penalty in the double-murder case ran afoul of the California law that addresses racial bias in prosecutions.

Judge Prickett, however, said the appropriate legal remedy for the racial comments would have been taking the death penalty off the table, a decision the DA’s office already proactively made prior to trial when they decided to instead seek life without the possibility of parole. Given the facts of the killings, the judge added, it was not in the interest of justice to reduce the charges of which Buggs was recently convicted.

Spitzer has repeatedly denied the allegations of racial bias, previously describing the accusations as “baseless and quite frankly offensive.”

Buggs’ hearing will resume on Friday afternoon, when he is expected to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the April 1, 2019 killings of 38-year-old Darren Partch and 48-year-old Wendi Miller.

Buggs apparently wrongly believed that Partch, a former minor-league hockey player, was in a relationship with Buggs’ estranged girlfriend. Buggs interrupted Partch and Miller having sex in Partch’s Newport Beach condominium and, according to the defense, mistook Miller for his ex-girlfriend before shooting both Partch and Miller to death.

Buggs was arrested several days later, while prosecutors say he was trying to track down and kill another man who was actually in a relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

Buggs’ attorneys did not dispute that he carried out the killings but argued to jurors that the slayings occurred in the heat of passion and were not premeditated first-degree murders.

During a pre-trial internal meeting with top DA officials about whether to seek the death penalty against Buggs, Spitzer asked about the race of Buggs’ former girlfriends and said he “knows many Black people who enhance their status by only dating ‘White women,’” according to internal DA memos. Buggs is Black, Partch and Miller were White and Buggs’ ex-girlfriend is White.

Spitzer has said that he was trying to determine the racial overtones of the case. Prosecutors on Friday noted that discussion of his mental status during the trial focused on him “confusing one curly-haired blonde for another.” Since Spitzer ultimately opted not to pursue the death penalty, prosecutors argued that “no adverse action” was taken against Buggs because of his race.

Denise Gragg, one of the attorneys representing Buggs, told the judge on Friday that Spitzer’s comments were an example of “the oldest bias that exists” regarding Black men and White women.

“If you can’t even recognize that is a bias, how can you assure yourself or us that there were not decisions made in this case or not made in this case that were influenced by that bias?” Gragg asked.

Buggs repeatedly refused to delay his trial in order for his attorneys to look into the impact of the racial comments. On Friday, Buggs attempted to fire his attorneys and represent himself, a request the judge denied by explaining it should have been made prior to the actual trial and is no longer timely.

Buggs at times interrupted the judge and at one point asked to be brought back into lockup, describing himself as being treated like a “slave.”

“Why should I sit here and have you tell me what my life is going to be like?” Buggs asked the judge.

The judge calmly pushed back, telling Buggs not to put words in his mouth. When asked by the judge whether he wanted to waive his presence at Friday’s hearing, Buggs ultimately declined and remained in the courtroom.